Humanitarian interventions or imperialist invasion?

Published 02 April 2014

shipAt what point does Australia’s involvement in international ‘interventions’ become ‘imperialism’ or even ‘invasion’?

The latest Humanities Research Seminar at the University of New England, will explore Australia’s interventions in Somalia, East Timor and the Gulf from an international law perspective.

The seminar, to be held on Friday in partnership with UNE’s School of Law, explores the extent to which Australia is protected in what UNE Senior Lecturer Cameron Moore calls “exercises of unlimited power”.

Mr Moore explains that there is no Australian statutory authority for the Australian Defence Forces to conduct external security operations and therefore, no immunity doctrine to protect Australia’s actions in international interventions, such as in East Timor.

“External security operations other than war have been the most extensive ADF operations in recent decades and, despite the extensive coercive powers exercised, there is less positive legal authority to support them than there is for war,” Mr Moore argues.

“The main distinction between such operations and war is that they do not involve combat against an enemy – the use of force is that required for self-defence and mission accomplishment, essentially a law enforcement approach.

“The war prerogative is not applicable and therefore there is no doctrine of combat immunity.

“For the most part, external security operations other than war have occurred under the international law authority of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and include the naval presence in the Middle East since 1990, the 1993 Somalia operation and operations in East Timor since 1999.

“The central issue is that the ADF is essentially exercising executive power, for which it has no legal authority under Australian law. Instead we must look to historic English case law pertaining to Acts of State.”

Cameron Moore is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law UNE. Between 1996 and 2003, he was a Royal Australian Navy Legal Officer, with experience including service at sea, advice on ADF deployments, fisheries and border protection and the TAMPA incident. He had a brief deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.